As some of you know, I grew up in St. Cloud, Minnesota. For those of you who do not know St. Cloud, ours was one of three black families that lived—and stayed for more than a year. Such a treacherous setting, ripe for an array of indignities. It is a tough reality to survive without a sense of humor.
My dad has one—a sense of humor. (Do I have one? That is a matter of dispute among my friends. More on that later.) I must have been five or six. It was a Saturday afternoon, sometime in the late 1960s. Dad was in our yard, doing yard work, while I played outside to keep him company. A man stop to talk with dad while he raked. Their conversation lasted less than a couple of minutes before the man walked away.
“Who was that?” I asked dad.
“Some joker,” he said. “The man said, 'Hey, buddy, how much they payin' ya to do this yard work?'” dad told me. “He said, 'Our yard needs some work. Will you do ours next?'” Of course, the question made no sense to me—maybe because it made no sense. Dad turned back to a vigorous raking of the yard, kind of like a grandma, combing a granddaughter's hair while she's upset with her. Then he said, “I told him, 'I'm not getting paid anything, but if I do a good job, I get to sleep with the woman who lives here.'”